One of the strongest seasons of the recent “Saturday Night Live” era is hitting a winter rough patch, first with the straining-for-laughs Kevin Hart episode and now with this week’s largely forgettable effort. Nothing against the supremely charismatic Blake Shelton, but hiring him as “SNL” host seemed to be more for corporate synergy than for his sketch comedy skills. Shelton may be a humorous foil to Adam Levine while judging “The Voice,” but that doesn’t necessarily make him an ideal choice for Studio 8H. Quite the opposite, actually, as the country music singer played straight in nearly every sketch, forcing the cast to (capably) pull all the comedy weight for the evening. Nothing about Shelton’s personality came through tonight the way it does so winningly on “The Voice,” and for that he was a pretty lifeless MC despite his best efforts.
Regardless, the cast once again proved its the one bright spot no matter how uneven the writing can be or how off the hosting choices may lean. Check out our Week 11 rundown below:
The One Sketch You Can’t Miss: “Patriots Press Conference Cold Open”
“SNL” wasted no time attacking the ubiquitous NFL DeflateGate scandal, and the result was a confident cold open that skewered all the parties involved while commentating on just how ridiculous the entire thing is. Both the cast and the writing were uniformly strong here, from Beck Bennett’s grunting Bill Belichick (“As you can see I’m taking this very seriously, that’s why I got dressed up”) to Taran Killam’s dumbed-down pretty-boy take on Tom Brady (“I just want to address the elephant in the room – this is a vintage hat. Ok, laters!”). Unsurprisingly, Bobby Moynihan stole the show as the culprit, Assistant Equipment Co-Manager Dougy Spoons. The arc of this character – nonchalant pun master (“You guys want to touch my balls or something?”) to hardcore defendant (“This main is a saint!”) to explosive confessor (“You’re damn right I did!”) – perfectly managed to chronicle the fallout’s trajectory, giving Moynihan’s fiery delivery a real chance to shine Jack Nicholson-style. Plus, anytime we get Moynihan and Kate McKinnon in a shouting fight is more than ok with us.
Cast MVP: Bobby Moynihan (“Riblet”)
The cold open above put a spotlight on Moynihan’s explosive sketch presence, but it was only the opening act to his episode-stealing performance as Michael Che’s friend from high school, Riblet, during “Weekend Update.” Riblet’s hot-headed tangents and ignorant attitude allowed for a star-making vehicle for Moynihan, whose “homeboy” delivery of words like “hard” and “job” provided some of the biggest belly laughs of the night. Attacking Che’s anchor skills certainly had a meta subtext to it, whether the show intended for it or not, and the way Moynihan’s vocal delivery effortlessly switched between wannabe gangster and professional newscaster proved just how masterful the veteran can be when the show gives him a chance to rip. Microphone drop well deserved, Bobby.
Cast MVP: Kate McKinnon / Aidy Bryant (“Farm Hunk”)
“The Bachelor” parody “Farm Hunk” provided each female cast member with an opportunity to showcase the very best of her comedic talents, but Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant easily stole the spotlight with their varying levels of escalating craziness. McKinnon expertly turned up her sexual kookiness (her facial expression after the line, “I’ve a veteran of the porn industry, and I’ve served my country over 200 times,” was comedic perfection), while Bryant one-upped her with her melodramatic emotions. Like Bobby Moynihan, Bryant is a master at instant tonal switches, shifting from sexy contestant to total train wreck here with ease and astute control. Bryant also got to delivery one of the best lines of the night – “My brain is sick! You’re going to have to give me medicine everyday, and it has to be in cheese or I’ll spit it up!”
Cast MVP: Kenan Thompson (“Parole Board, “Celebrity Family Feud”)
Another weekend, another episode in which Thompson gets showered in MVP love. Seriously, can we just pause for a second and recognize how incredible Thompson has been this season? This weekend, Thompson’s talents were well utilized in two sketches he simply dominated. The way he brought an eloquent, Morgan Freeman-level of reserve to his prisoner in “Parole Board” gave that sketch all its comedic mileage, mainly because Thompson stood in direct contrast to his character’s cannibalistic ways. The comedian’s Steve Harvey impersonation during “Celebrity Family Feud” was also more stellar than usual. Sketches like these are designed for every cast member to show off his/her impersonation skills, so it says a whole lot about Thompson’s skills when he’s the only one stealing an ensemble-tailored sketch like this one left and right. Playing up Harvey’s humbleness with a bumbling grin (“Girl you Latina the same way Taco Bell is Mexican!”), Thompson nailed every introductory line and reaction, our favorite being the spicy “Don’t matter. Real or not I’m smackin’ it!” rebuttal to Nicki Minaj.
Needs Improvement: Sasheer Zamata (“Nicole”)
How many times is the show going to give Sasheer Zamata the chance for a breakout? And how many times is Zamata going to utterly drop the ball on said chance? January 2015 marks a full year that Zamata has been a member of the “SNL” ensemble, and it’s a major red flag that she has yet to prove her viability as a performer. Nicki Minaj’s cocky brashness should be one of the easier things to mock, yet Zamata felt rushed and uncertain in the seconds-lasting role during “Celebrity Family Feud.” Even worse was her “Weekend Update” appearance as Michael Che’s ex-gilfriend, Nicole. It wasn’t going to be easy following up great “Update” appearances by Moynihan and Pete Davidson, but Zamata brought nothing exciting in her stint here. If anything, her tired attempts at being the “sassy black girlfriend” came off like a wannabe Leslie Jones, who is far more confident and commanding when she takes on this cliched stereotype.
“Saturday Night Live” is all new this week with host J.K. Simmons and musical guest D’Angelo.